Just got back yesterday from NOLA and will be going again in two weeks to speak on a panel for the American Library Association. I ALWAYS have a good time in my hometown, so I thought I'd share a few "insider tips" for visitors. If you're seeing New Orleans on a budget (and who isn't these days!) you'll be happy to know that some of the best views of the Crescent City are free. Here are my favorites:
Morning: Shake off that hangover and stroll the Quarter before 9am to watch the buggy drivers whisper to their horses as they line them up and the French Market vendors call good-natured insults to their neighbors over produce they're artfully arranging (oh, those beautiful Creole tomatoes.) Polite older gentlemen will tip their hats to you as they feed pigeons in the quiet before the tourist mob descends, and the eccentric residents might nod as they rally for the day - like the guy I saw walking down St. Peter (no pun intended) with a coffee cup . . . in penny loafers and an open bath robe . . . and nothing else. And don't forget, it's New Orleans so you can probably order a Bloody Mary at a bar that's still open (if "hair of the dog" takes precedence over coffee) and drink it while you roam. It's a great time to learn the streets, but don't take a map; the goal is to blend in like a native and let the culture "adopt" you.
Afternoon: Catch the St. Charles street car at Canal and Carondolet (Bourbon's "cross-Canal" extension) for a relaxing, open air ride that sways peacefully through the Garden District. (Okay, it's not completely free - I cheated a little - but $1.25 each way is pretty close in my book; oh, and bring exact change.) The whole route's about 45 min. each way, but you can hop off anywhere and pick up a returning car back to Canal if time is short. It stops every two blocks, but pull the cord to let the driver know if you're getting off because if no one's waiting at a stop, they sometimes skip it. Tempting reasons to exit? Trendy boutiques, unique eateries, and great bars on Magazine St. and of course, Commander's Palace if you've made a reservation. Other fabulous foods near the end of the streetcar line: Le Madeleine (French country fare) and Camellia Grill (retro diner for breakfast or burgers).
Evening: For an unparalleled perspective of the French Quarter, take the Algiers ferry across the Ms. River and back at sunset or twilight. The 30 minute round trip is FREE for pedestrians ($1 for cars) and leaves from the end of Canal right next to the Aquarium from 6am –midnight at :15 and :45 past the hour (returning from Algiers on the hour and at half past.) I love the sound of it churning across the powerful river current, and the majestic view of the St. Louis Cathedral that slowly unfolds as you move out into the surging waters.
And the best part of "touring on the cheap": you can save your money for the outrageously decadent food choices you'll find on every corner. More on that later on the blog. : )
Anyone else have NOLA freebie favorites?